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Christmas 2023 at the Vatican: Nativity to recall St. Francis’ first-ever manger scene

Pope Francis visits the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square following vespers on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2022. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 30, 2023 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

The Christmas 2023 Nativity scene at the Vatican will evoke the first-ever live manger, which was created by St. Francis of Assisi in Italy in the 1200s, the Vatican said Monday.

The Vatican’s Nativity scene, which is different every year, will be unveiled at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 9. The Christmas tree will also be lit for the first time this season at the same event.

The Christmas tree and Nativity scenes will remain in place through the Christmas season, until Jan. 7, 2024, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

St. Francis’ meditations on the life of Christ while visiting the Holy Land led him to create a representation of the birth of Jesus on Christmas in Greccio, Italy, in 1223. It is believed to be the origin of the Nativity scene.

The Vatican’s Nativity scenes in St. Peter’s Square and the Paul VI Hall will “revive the atmosphere of Christmas 1223 … when St. Francis, returning from a journey to the Holy Land, asked to reenact the birth of Jesus in a village that reminded him of Bethlehem,” a press release said.

Christmas 2023 marks 800 years since St. Francis of Assisi staged the first manger scene in the hill town of Greccio, about 50 miles north of Rome.

In addition to the traditional Nativity figures of Mary, Joseph, the child Jesus, and the ox and donkey, the life-size painted terracotta statues will depict St. Francis and some of the principal characters who helped him create the first live creche.

The structure behind the figures will be of the rock still present at the Catholic shrine in Greccio and the fresco painted above it. The surrounding countryside and the four Franciscan shrines of that area will also be depicted.

The Nativity scene inside the Paul VI Hall, where Pope Francis holds his Wednesday audiences with the public during the winter months, will be made from thousands of glass Venetian tiles.

The 82-foot-tall white spruce to be used for the Vatican Christmas tree comes from the Italian Alps close to the border with France.

Instead of traditional ornaments, the tree will be decorated with thousands of edelweiss, a white mountain flower that grows in the Alps and other areas of high altitude.

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